10 Things to Know about the Opéra Comédie

The Théâtre Municipal de Montpellier has quite a few surprises in store for you ...

Le Théâtre de Montpellier après l'incendie (1881-04-06) by Jean LouvrierOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

1–It has been in flames three times!

Fate has been cruel to the Théâtre Municipal, subjecting the venue to a number of fires over the centuries ...

L'ancien théâtre de Montpellier (1858) by Archives Municipales de MontpellierOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

Situated right in the heart of Montpellier's historic city center, the first Théâtre Municipal was designed by Jacques Philippe Mareschal and opened in 1755.
It was damaged by fire for the first time during the night of December 17 to 18, 1785. The reconstruction work provided the opportunity to revamp the great hall and extend some of the interior areas. This second theater was inaugurated in October of 1787, but fell victim to fire again during the night of April 5 to 6, 1881, and was completely destroyed. A witness told the press that the flames lit up the city, making for "a sight that was both spectacular and terrifying."
In July 1881, shortly after the fire, the City Council launched a competition for the construction of a new Théâtre Municipal.

Théâtre de Montpellier par Cassien-Bernard (1884) by Cassien-Bernard and Archives Municipales de MontpellierOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

2–Its architect studied under Charles Garnier
And the interior and exterior fittings of the future Théâtre Municipal de Montpellier show signs of the influence of that great Parisian architect.

In response to the competition launched by Montpellier City Council, 13 sets of plans for the new theater were anonymously submitted to the jury. The plans created by the architect Joseph Marie Cassien-Bernard, a student of Charles Garnier (the architect behind the Opéra de Paris, which opened in 1875, and a member of the jury), were announced as the winning design in December of 1881.

L'Opéra Comédie en construction (1886)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

From 1884 through 1888, the building site for the Opéra Comédie kept about 100 workers busy.

Théâtre de Montpellier par Cassien-Bernard (1884) by Cassien-Bernard and Archives Municipales de MontpellierOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

Garnier's influence is visible in Cassien-Bernard's design; on the outside, the three large picture windows on the facade were inspired by the Opéra de Monte-Carlo (Garnier, 1879) ...

Le rideau de scène et le lambrequin de l'Opéra Comédie (2020)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

... whereas for the interior, Cassien-Bernard drew inspiration more from the Opéra de Paris (Palais Garnier), with its enormous stage curtain and painted proscenium arch ...

Vue en plongée sur la salle de l'Opéra Comédie depuis la 2ème galerieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

... and a hall designed in a distinctly Italian style: in a horseshoe shape and distributed over five stories.

Le lustre de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

The jewel in the great hall's crown is its monumental Baccarat crystal chandelier suspended from the middle of the cupola, which was painted by Arnaud-Durbec as an allegory of Montpellier with its triumphal arch and its Languedoc customs.

La cage de scène de l'Opéra Comédie (2020)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

3—Some 4,737 square feet (440 square meters) are devoted to the stage area

In 2011, the opera house closed its doors to the public to allow renovation work to be done for the restoration, modernization, and safety of the stage tower 112 feet tall (34 meters) and the adjacent areas. The aim was to bring this 18th century theater firmly into the present day.

La scène de l'Opéra Comédie (2020)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

After 18 months of work financed by the city of Montpellier, the stage area had been extended, motorized, and made safer, allowing all kinds of scenery and accessories to be brought on stage more fluidly.

La grande salle de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

The orchestra pit was also reconfigured, making it easier for musicians to enter, and improving the comfort and acoustics.

Le rideau de scène et le lambrequin de l'Opéra Comédie (2020)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

Lastly, the original proscenium arch, crowning the stage and displaying the year in which the theater opened, was restored, and the trompe-l'œil painted stage curtain was recreated from archive photos.

Maquette d'architecture de l'Opéra Comédie (2020) by Montpellier Méditerrannée Métropole, Ducaroy Grange, and L'AtelierOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

To prepare for the works, two impressive architectural models measuring 8 x 3 feet (2.5 x 1 meters or 1/50th scale) were created by Ducaroy Grange and L'Atelier. They are now on display in the Trois Grâces de l'Opéra entrance hall.

Le Hall des Trois GrâcesOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

4–It accommodates the original Trois Grâces statue.

Few people are aware that the Trois Grâces statue in the Place de la Comédie square is actually a copy. Sculpted by Etienne Dantoine in 1777, the original statue was moved to the Opéra Comédie in 1989 to protect it from bad weather and general deterioration.

La Statue des Trois GrâcesOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

Les fauteuils de l'Opéra Comédie de MontpellierOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

5–The building actually contains two concert halls

La grande salle de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

The Opéra Comédie (the main hall), an Italian-style hall with a capacity of 1,200 distributed over five levels.

La Salle MolièreOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

And the Salle Molière (formerly known simply as the concert hall), named in tribute to the actor and playwright who lived in Pézenas for a long time.
Situated to the rear of the building and perpendicular to the great hall, the Salle Molière provides a very beautiful setting, with its suspended boxes and its capacity of 350 seats.

L'Horloge sur la facade de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

6–The opera house's clock is wound by hand every week

A monumental clock sits atop the facade of the opera house and is one of the City of Montpellier's official clocks.

L'Horloge sur la facade de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

At the request of Cassien-Bernard, the clock was designed by the Béziers-born sculptor Injalbert (Prix de Rome 1874). It is flanked by two angels, each holding a torch, symbolizing music and poetry.

La salle de l'horloge de l'Opéra Comédie (2020)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

Every Monday, in a room just below the roof of the opera house, the clock is manually wound by a horologist.

Le Hall des Trois GrâcesOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

7–A secret corner allows you to throw your voice more than 49 feet (15 meters)

Le Hall des Trois GrâcesOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

Local tour guides are familiar with the fact that the Trois Grâces foyer is home to two statues of muses standing some 49 feet (15 meters) apart.

Le Hall des Trois GrâcesOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

A surprising phenomenon occurs when two people each stand behind one of these statues: thanks to the reverberation friendly vaulted architecture, an acoustic bridge is created, enabling them to hear each other speaking, or even whispering, at a distance of more than 49 feet (15 meters) away!

Le lustre de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

8–The secrets to maintaining the chandelier

Measuring 10 feet (approximately 3 meters) in height and weighing about 2 tonnes, the chandelier contains more than 2,000 crystal beads.

La salle du lustreOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

This monumental light has a room all to itself (known as the chandelier room). To undergo maintenance, rather than lowering it to the floor of the great hall, it is raised via a motor through an opening in the center of the cupola.

La coupole de la salle du lustreOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

About 10 minutes later, the chandelier arrives in the middle of a permanent scaffold allowing the technical personnel to clean it and change its bulbs.

Le local accessoires de l'Opéra ComédieOpéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

9–The basement has an Aladdin's cave inside!

The prop room of the Opéra Orchestre is a real treasure trove containing all kinds of objects from every era, tracked down by the prop staff for the theater's many productions. In need of an 18th century style suitcase or a 1980s lamp? They'll be able to sort you out here!

Sur le toit de l'Opéra Comédie (2020)Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie

10–The views of Montpellier are unobstructed

From the top of the building, the Opéra Comédie offers one of the most stunning views of the rooftops of L'Écusson—the historic heart of Montpellier.

Credits: Story

Opéra Orchestre national Montpellier Occitanie,
Archives de la Métropole de Montpellier

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Welcome to l'Opera
A behind-the-curtain look at France's opera houses
View theme
Google apps